“ A Lesson in Restraint and Wisdom” by Rabbi Reuven Mann
In Pirkei Avot the Rabbis teach “Be Deliberate in Judgment.” On the most primary level this admonition is directed at judges who are responsible to run the courts and adjudicate legal questions. At first glance it is not clear what deeper principle they are trying to impart. We assume that judges like all professionals conduct their business in an organized, methodical manner. What message is conveyed by the notion that they should be “slow” in reaching decisions?
I believe that this is a very significant teaching which is relevant to people in all areas of life. There is a powerful human tendency to “jump to conclusions.” Many people, especially those with expertise in an area tend to overestimate their own powers and feel that they intuitively know the answer to complicated problems. Often they arrive at conclusions instantaneously, without giving the matter sufficient thought and examination. The Rabbis are instructing us to resist the egotistic temptation to overestimate our feelings and intuitions about significant issues. We should be humble and recognize the complexity of the questions that confront us and the need to think matters over carefully and consider the opinions of others before arriving at conclusions.
In this context I believe we can learn an important lesson from the disciplined and judicious manner in which Prime Minister Netanyahu conducted himself at the White House meeting with President Obama last week. Many of us who regard themselves as loyal Americans and staunch supporters of Israel were dismayed by the remarks made by President Obama before his scheduled meeting with Netanyahu. The President seemed to imply that negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians would be based on the premise of Israel having to return to the pre six day war boundary which Abba Eban had famously dubbed the “Auschwitz lines.” The statement sent shock waves throughout the world and alarmed Jewish and gentile supporters of Israel. The very next day Netanyahu met for two hours with the President. Afterwards President Obama said a few words and then turned the floor over to Netanyahu. One can imagine the extreme pressure he was under. His performance was nothing short of masterful. He spoke with calmness and respect and with very carefully chosen words pointed out the serious dangers in the President’s flawed approach. The Prime Minister was not angry or defensive, but calm, confident and eloquent in his presentation of the Israeli position. Anyone watching would have to be impressed by the wisdom of his position and the firmness of his commitment to his understanding of Israel’s security needs. I had great admiration for Prime Minister Netanyahu. He fulfilled the dictum to be “deliberate in judgment.” He put all emotion aside, thought the matter over carefully and on the President’s “home court” had the courage to express with respect and eloquence, the truths behind the Israeli position and the dangers inherent in Obama’s formulation. Let us all learn to approach provocative statements with the same calmness and equilibrium. Let us learn not to rush to judgment but to always be thoughtful and disciplined. May the Jewish people overcome their many differences and learn to work together with wisdom, dedication and an overarching love of Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael.